Beauty and Gloom

The poetry of beauties by Yumeji Takehisa




Females of different faces drawn by Yumeji Takehisa all share a similar temperament: they show a contemplating expression as if they are wandering in a dream, or desperately longing for someone. The smiles on their face are always beautifully sad. Wearing a simple kimono, the ladies sit in a feminine posture, with their hands elegantly positioned. These charismatic female bodies depicted by Yumeji Takehisa are called the “Yumeji’s beauties”.

As a painter, Yumeji Takehisa was active during the Taishō period. Taishō is an era from 1912 to 1926, which was a short yet intriguing period of 15 years. The rapid changes experienced by the Taishō society interestingly provided a breeding ground for art forms with strong personality. Towards the end of Meiji period, Japan was significantly influenced by the Industrial Revolution in Western countries, as a result, the country largely invested in the railway and maritime systems. Commercial and economic growth continued to dominate Japan until early Taishō period, when signs of peace and prosperity could be easily seen everywhere in the country. The good time however could only be sustained until people got negatively impacted by the post-WWI trauma and the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. The country was then shadowed by gloominess. Many of the Japanese felt materialistically dissatisfied and emotionally insecure. Inspired by Romanticism imported from Europe, the discontentments evolved into a strong crave for dreams and ambitions — the unique Taishō Romanticism. Takehisa was one of the representative figures of the Taishō Romanticism for the vivid sentimentality in his painting.

Takehisa used to be a poet before becoming a painter. His economic condition made him give up writing poetry. Therefore some say the dazzlingly beautiful women in Takehisa’s drawings are only one layer of “Takehisa’s beauties”, the other layer is the poetry buried in Takehisa’s mind. Tokyo Yumeji Takehisa Museum is currently having “The Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter of Yumeji Takehisa” exhibition. The exhibition intends to depart from “Takehisa’s beauties” and explores Takehisa’s love for the four seasons. In the exhibition, audience will have a chance to read lines of romantic poetry in the form of paintings.